Real-world problems are no match for this new crop of Latina superheroes
In the multiverse of superheroes, some comic book and graphic novel creators are using Latina characters to challenge real-life issues.
New Yorker Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez created La Borinqueña, a Puerto Rican superhero who crusades for issues affecting the Caribbean island-- including climate change, economic displacement, renewable energy and Black Lives Matter.
In 2015, while writing stories for Marvel, Miranda learned that Puerto Rico had amassed an $80 billion debt. He decided to write his first graphic novel (which is independently published) to raise awareness and raise money for grassroots non-profit organizations in Puerto Rico.
"La Borinqueña is unapologetically an Afro-Boricua, a Black superhero of Puerto Rican descent who is also an activist," says Miranda.
In her first adventure, "La Borinqueña didn't fight a supervillain; she dealt with a massive hurricane that left the island in a complete blackout. The book was published months before Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, killing more than 3000 people and destroying homes.
The latest issue of La Borinqueña commemorates the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria and comes at a time when Puerto Ricans are dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, with no electricity or running water. It talks about the importance of climate-resilient reconstruction to reduce future impacts of natural disasters. Miranda partnered with the Natural Resources Defense Council to publish the special edition issue featuring celebrity activist Rosario Dawson.
"It was important for us to reflect on the power and resiliency of Puerto Ricans as they continue to sustainably rebuild from the disasters brought on by Hurricane Maria," Miranda wrote in a statement. "At the same time, we must hold local and mainland U.S. leaders accountable for the harmful delays in distributing promised resources and services to the island in the aftermath. Puerto Rico, the island itself, and especially the people who call it home–deserve more."
La Borinqueña is now a part of the collection by the Smithsonian and has been featured at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York and art exhibitions around the world. Actresses Dawson and Zoe Saldana have voiced La Borinqueña for public service announcements urging Latinos to register to vote.
A portion of the sales of the first line of La Borinqueña action figures will be dedicated to continued philanthropic work in Puerto Rico. One of the newest ventures is a music video collaboration with Stretch and Bobbito + The M19's, featuring Eddie Palmieri.
Kayden Phoenix is a third-generation Chicana from L.A.'s Boyle Heights neighborhood. Her team of comic book superheroes, called A La Brava, are social justice crusaders who tackle femicide, teen suicide, gun control in schools, child trafficking and domestic violence.
"I had to make superheroes that actually have grounded superpowers," she says.
Phoenix says she wants to go beyond the usual superhero stories. "How many times you can save Metropolis or Gotham or Central Park or the world? If the team wants to save the world or the planet, you think of the Avengers or the Guardians of the Galaxy," she says. "But who's going to save a real girl?"
Her A La Brava team includes:
"Jalisco," a Mexican Folklorico dancer with blades on the edges of her dresses. She takes on femicide in Mexico.
"Santa," from the Texas-Mexico border, has divine strength. "She's my brawler and she has deja vu," says Phoenix. Santa faces off against a corrupt politician called "Ice." "He's symbolic of ICE and all the detention centers and everything that comes with that."
"Loquita," a Boricua-Cubana from Miami, balances high school life with being a supernatural detective.
"Ruca," a Chicana from East L.A. has "instant karma, so whatever, whatever you do to her, she can throw back right at you."
"Bandida, a Dominican gunslinger in New York. "Bullets ricochet off of her," says Phoenix. "She infiltrates a Broadway theater group and ends up taking it down for abusing the females."
As more Latino superheroes are featured in movies and on TV, these two comix creators hope their characters make it to the screen someday, too. And they'll be armed with powers to take on real-world problems.
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.